Culturable eubacterial isolates were collected at various altitudes in Earth’s atmosphere, including ~1.5 m above ground in Tallahassee, FL, USA; ~10.0 m above sea level over the mid-Atlantic ridge (~15° N); ~20 km above ground over the continental United States; ~20 km above sea level over the Pacific Ocean near southern California; and from the atmosphere of Carlsbad Cavern, Carlsbad Cavern National Park, NM, USA. Isolates were screened for the presence of inducible virus-like particles (VLP) through the use of mitomycin C and epifluorescent direct counts. We determined that 92.7% of the isolates carried inducible VLP counts in exposed versus non-exposed culture controls and that the relationship was statistically significant. Further statistical analyses revealed that the number of isolates that demonstrated VLP production did not vary among collection sites. These data demonstrate a high prevalence of VLP generation in isolates collected in the lower atmosphere and at extreme altitudes. They also show that species of eubacteria that are resistant to the rigors of atmospheric transport play a significant role in long-range atmospheric inter- and intra-continental dispersion of VLP and that long-range atmospheric transport of VLP may enhance rates of evolution at the microbial scale in receiving environments.
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